A new era for blimps may be emerging thanks to billionaire Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who aims to turn these sky-giants into cargo vessels.
Brin’s company LTA Research has created a 400-foot “lighter than air” blimp-like vehicle – dubbed Pathfinder 1 – which has recently received its airworthiness approval.
These airships could one day carry up to 200 tons of cargo each.
They also require little infrastructure for take-off and landing, such as a runway, which is why LTA hopes they will play a role in disaster relief.
Once it flies, the Pathfinder 1 will be the largest aircraft to take to the skies since the tragic Hindenberg disaster in 1937, when Zeppelins were largely abandoned.
On the second of its scheduled 1937 transatlantic crossings, the Hindenburg burst into flames over Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 35 out of 96 passengers and one member of ground crew.
The incident triggered a reflexive fear of hydrogen based vehicles, in what has come to be known as “Hindenberg syndrome.”
To combat this paranoia, the Pathfinder 1 will use only non-flammable helium, as opposed to explosive hydrogen.
The next-generation blimp, kitted out with 12 electric motors and four rudders, has a frame built from carbon fibers and titanium.
The US Federal Aviation Administration officially cleared Pathfinder 1 for takeoff last month, IEEE Spectrum reported.
It has been green lit to fly no higher than 1,500 feet.
According to IEEE, the inflatable aircraft is allowed to fly over the south side of the San Fransisco Bay, where it won’t interfere with any planes “flying into or out of San Jose and San Francisco International commercial airports.”
While Brin might look like the latest tech billionaire to make his claim of the skies – it appears the Russian-American businessman anticipates Pathfinder 1 to be a humanitarian project.
The airship aims to be incredibly light but with a lot of space for cargo, making it an efficient means of delivering large amounts of aid and relief workers to difficult-to-access disaster zones.
“We believe lighter than air technology has the capacity to speed up humanitarian aid by reaching remote locations with little infrastructure, and to lower carbon emissions for air and cargo transportation,” LTA’s CEO Alan Weston told the Financial Times in June last year.
These airships could one day carry up to 200 tons of cargo each, Weston told Bloomberg in May.
That is nearly ten times the amount a Boeing 737 can carry.
These aircrafts also require little infrastructure for take-off and landing, such as a runway, which is why LTA hopes they will play a role in disaster relief.
“If runways, roads, and ports are damaged, LTA’s airships can still deliver what communities need,” the company notes on its website.
“If cellphone towers are knocked out, airships can hover and provide service.”
However, the aircraft was once nicknamed an “air yacht” due mostly to Brin’s billionaire status.
So, there is some concern that the humanitarian moonshoot may eventually be watered down to be an airborne addition to Brin’s collection of luxury yachts and water-sports vehicles.
Once the Pathfinder 1’s California test flights are complete, the aircraft will reportedly head to the Goodyear Airdock hangar located in Akron, Ohio, where it’s bigger, nearly 600-foot sibling, is being constructed.